History of Yellow River

The Yellow River Park is a 565 acre park which is transected by Juhan Road and is part of the Gwinnett County Parks and Recreation Department. The Yellow River, which originates in northern Gwinnett County, winds its way through the park and an unnamed creek empties into the river within the park.

The property was bought from private land owners by the Gwinnett Public Utilities Department in 1990 as the site to build a waste water treatment plant. The plan was put on hold because of concern over possible contamination of the Yellow River and by 1993 the project was scraped. That same year a SORBA member contacted Steve Cannon, who was the head of Public Utilities, to inquire about riding his bike on the property and permission was granted. By the following year the property was made an official park by the county and named Yellow River Park. The word got out and hundreds of bikers began coming. Mountain bikers made a very favorable impression early on and were noted to respect the environment. In an interview with Mr. Cannon, he stated that mountain bikers were the first group of park users that he had ever seen before or since that left no litter behind. A friendly relationship developed between SORBA and Public Utilities and both groups began staking out trails and constructing them as a partnership. Initially the trails were used by bikers and school kids for hiking which made both groups happy. These trails grew quickly and within a short period of time there were 2 distinct 5 mile loop trails, one on each side of Juhan Rd. The east side trail was a beginner to intermediate trail which followed the contour of the land with gently rolling hills and a couple of short but challenging climbs. In three places it followed the Yellow River for a short distance and soon became known as the River Side.

The trail to the west side of Juhan was an intermediate affair with several hard climbs and fast down hills. Three sections of this trail were connected by a section that paralleled the creek and hence became known as the Creek Side. As the popularity of mountain biking grew so did the popularity of Yellow River. It soon became clear that these trails offered the best off road biking in the Atlanta metro area. The dirt parking lot, which was at the trailhead of the River Side, was on the periphery of a much larger grassy field that on nice days was frequented by picnickers and Frisbee throwers.

While everyone was having a wonderful time at the park, things were going on in the background. The development of Yellow River Park was a grassroots affair and therefore not under the control of The Parks Department. This clearly could not continue. In 1994 the park came under the control of Gwinnett County Parks and Recreation Department and a Needs Assessment Survey, done by telephone, was conducted of randomly selected Gwinnett citizens. This was used as a basis for a public meeting held in December 2001. From this meeting of concerned citizens, a steering committee was selected to assist in the development of the Master Plan for the redevelopment of Yellow River Park. This is where the mountain biking community dropped the ball.

Because we were already having a good time, there was little interest among most bikers to get involved in this political stuff. There was only one mountain biker on the committee and our needs and concerns did not get a high priority. The Master Plan was settled and a contractor, The Astra Group, was hired to implement the plan. Work began on the River Side in late 2004. Everyone held their breath and hoped for the best. The contractor, however, had no background in mountain bike trail building and in early 2005 bikers began wandering over to the River Side to get a glimpse of what was happening. They were aghast. The beautiful bridge that lead to the trails was gone. There was not even a remnant of the 5 mile loop trail that they had come to know and love. It had been completely bulldozed and covered up. All this was replaced with was an 8 foot wide smooth pathway that was appropriate for biking by children and dog walking but not experienced bike riding. Then it became apparent that the Creek Side had the same fate in store. This finally got the attention of the metro area mountain biking community and a vigorous protest began. As word spread, a grassroots e-mail campaign complaining about what had been done was focused on the Parks Department officials and county commissioners.

Grant Guess, Division Director for Project Administration for Parks and Recreation, responded positively and development on the Creek Side was postponed while the issue was explored. In August of 2005 a Gwinnett County chapter of SORBA was formed, in part to negotiate with county officials. This proved to be effective and by September 2005 Mr. Guess had agreed to appropriate additional funds to hire Mike Riter, the official mountain bike trail builder for SORBA, to do any further work on the Creek side. This is where we stand in December 2005. Mike is supposed to begin work in January 2006, if things remain on schedule, and for many months to follow the trails will be shut down.

The future of the Yellow River Park trails looks good. The trails will be different from what many of us have known for the past 10 years but with Mike behind the Dingo, I expect they will be high quality. Furthermore with any luck, after the Creek Side project is completed, SORBA may be allowed to come in to repair some of the damage done to the River Side.

Stephen Konigsberg
Secretary SORBA – GATR